Turkey wants improved ties with Hollande's France

Newly-elected French President Francois Hollande (Photo: Reuters)

May 13, 2012, Sunday/ 12:43:00

Turkey's European Union Affairs minister has said Turkey wants to open a new page with France under the leadership of its new president and that he hoped France would support Turkey's membership bid in the 27-nation European club.

“We are hoping that he [French president-elect Francois Hollande] would open a new page in the very deep and fruitful historical relations between Turkey and France,” EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış told the AFP news agency.

Turkish and French relations were badly strained earlier this year after the French Parliament endorsed a bill that makes it a crime to deny World War I-era killings of Armenians constituted genocide. Turkey imposed a set of sanctions on France, cutting military ties and cancelling economic forums. The French Constitutional Council later knocked down the bill, ruling that it was a violation of the French Constitution.

Bağış said Turkey would like to see France become one of the champions of Turkish integration in the EU as it was under former President Jacques Chirac. He added that outgoing French president Nicolas Sarkozy probably had different priorities.

“Sarkozy was a very smart politician. He saw an opportunity for a vote from the extreme right and he went after that,” Bağış said. He also stressed that this strategy worked in 2007, but that “it did not work in the second election.”

The Turkish minister added that Turkey is not in the business of creating animosity. “We are in the business of creating friendship, where diplomacy and politics are part of finding solutions, not creating problems,” he said.

Turkey, a NATO member, is a strategic ally of France and valued trading partner. Paris and Ankara are both deeply involved in international issues, from the uprising in Syria to Afghanistan.

The volume of trade between France and Turkey from January to November of last year was more than $13.5 billion, according to Turkish government statistics. France is also Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports.

“Turkey can turn the grandest peace project in the history of mankind, which is the EU, from a continental project into a global project,” Bağış suggested, adding that Turkey is a democratic inspiration in the Arab world and that Europe could have a greater influence there with Ankara at its side.

However, France has staunchly opposed Turkey's EU membership bid and Paris has taken steps to block Turkey's accession negotiations. Under Sarkozy, France said it would not allow talks on five chapters to continue, which Paris insisted were directly related to full accession to the EU, although this was not officially announced.

Ankara now expects France's position on the five chapters to change with the new president. Observers have also noted that France might indeed issue an official statement regarding the five blocked chapters, but such a statement might only be made after the June 16 parliamentary elections.

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru also made similar remarks last week, saying Turkey hopes problems it had with France will be resolved under the new president. But he added that Turkey will wait and see what position France takes with respect to problematic topics and Turkey's stalled EU membership bid.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said last week that Turkey believes Hollande will take positive steps in France's transformation process. He also stated that Turkey hopes Hollande and his team will make a new assessment in this new period regarding Turkish-French relations.       

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